The Root of Hatred and Persecutions against the Church: The Socialist Story

“Shame, say I, and a thousand times shame, upon so feeble a religion as that which can tolerate the awful social life which exists in London at this very time. There are not less than four hundred thousand persons in London alone in a state of semi or actual starvation… What are you ministers and plutocratic members of the rich churches and chapels doing to make earth like heaven?” — Tom Mann, 1896. [1]

The church at large needs to repent and acknowledge the great wrongs that we’ve done to the world and humankind.

Over the past decade or two, Christendom has seen an exponential increase in persecution. Persecution arises in different forms all around the world. However, over the past few years, persecutions in China that arise from an attempt by the Chinese government to promote “socialism with Chinese characteristics” begin catching the attention of the global community. It is important to note that the persecutions of religion in China not only applies to Christianity but also to other religions at large. In light of this growing pressure that curb the fundamental of freedom of religion that is rooted in the 36th article of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China [2], I think it is only appropriate that Christendom take a step back and analyze why the Middle Kingdom is opposing its very own constitution to “curb” religious practices in the country [3].

In this short post, I aim not to come to a conclusion on the absolute root cause of the persecution. Rather, I aim to shed light on the reason behind the communist manifesto and how it manifested itself into the socialist form we see today.

My readings on the topic bring me back to the very foundations of Marxism. The year was 1848 and Karl Marx has penned the final words in his masterpiece, “The Communist Manifesto” [4]. During his time, Europe was already deeply ingrained in capitalist ideology and there were already two main social classes. These social classes are namely the “Bourgeoisie” (owners of methods of production) and the “Proletariats” (the laborers). Having seen the inequalities of the society, Marx adopted the most extreme form of socialism, communism, which called for a complete abolishment of social classes and a reform that would end capitalist once and for all.

The communist concept is simple. Communist preaches that people need one another to achieve greater things as a community. Authorities should ensure that the needs of all are met and that there should be a central control of the economy [5].

There is no hint of negativity in the communist ideology when it comes to religion, let alone persecution. In fact, the communist ideology is so in-sync with Biblical teachings that many Christians actually supported communist ideology [6]. Luke described Biblical communism at its best when he wrote that, “all believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:44, NIV). In fact, the communist ideology was so entwined in the lifestyle of early Christendom that the Church literally experienced the Utopia [7] that Marxist theories spoke about when “there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:34, NIV).

Let’s face it. Socialism and communism is in love with religion. More specifically, it is in love with Christianity. As Tom Mann, a socialist activist describes in 1896 in his article, “A Socialist’s View of Religion and the Churches” [1]:

“I am not condemning religion, but the lack of it. Religion to me consists of those ethical principles that serve as a guide in all matters of conduct—social, political, and industrial alike; and the essence of the whole thing is this: the choice between a life whose actuating motive shall be self, either in acquiring wealth, renown, prestige, or power, and a life which shall have primary regard for the well-being of the community as a whole. To do this is to engage in making it possible for “His kingdom to obtain on earth as in heaven.””

The world needs religion desperately. But Christendom is poor spiritually. There is no zeal in serving the needy and solving issues that arise from inequalities. The Church isn’t standing up to the unfairness of the world. Rather, the Church is indulging in the goodness of material wealth just like how the rest of the Bourgeoisie are reaping what they do not sow.

To make matters worse, Protestantism promoted the growth of Capitalism by justifying material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and election [8].

Christianity’s promotion of an economic system that is in direct opposition to Biblical teachings angered socialist throughout history. As a religion with “obvious western heritage” [9], the Church in China finds itself at odds with the “anti-Western ideology” government [10].

I think, both the government and the Church knows this.

This is why the bittersweet, love-hate relationship of the Church and Communism cumulated to the founding of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement where the Communist government allowed the Church to practice freedom of worship under the following terms: The Church must self-govern (no foreign ideologies should infiltrate and manipulate the governance of the church), self-support (the church should not receive foreign aid so that no foreign ideologies may infiltrate the country), and self-propagate (the church should manage its own growth without foreign intervention) [11]. Should a church or an institution fail to comply with the government’s request, then the government will have the right to deny its freedom to operate.

I think this is only fair that the socialist government enforce the rule of thumb so as to ensure the propagation of its socialist ideals. After all, its people-centered philosophy called for the promotion of holistic development and common prosperity for everyone [12]. For a government that promoted people-centered development, prosperity, and religious freedom [14], I do not understand why Christians in China is arguing that the government is “the most horrendous evil of Chinese society” and that “there is no greater wickedness in the world than this” [13].

I do think that there’re untold stories hidden behind the veils of communist propaganda and illegal churches. Stories unheard of in the public spheres. There may be linkages between capitalist ideologies and the existence of illegal churches that many are unaware of. The government too may have hidden agenda(s). I do not know. But one thing is for sure: A common understanding between the institutions can be drawn when past grievances are resolved and relationships reconciled.

I think, for the sake of the gospel, the Church should take a stand. We need to repent and admit our wrongs.

Footnotes:

[1] — https://www.marxists.org/archive/mann-tom/1896/religion.htm
[2] — Refer to Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_religion_in_China
[3] — McDermid, (2019). Asia is ‘new hotbed of Christian Persecution’ with situation in China worst since Cultural Revolution, report claims. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2182260/asia-new-hotbed-christian-persecution-situation-china-worst
[4] — https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marx-publishes-manifesto
[5] — https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/differences-between-capitalism-communism-and-why-did-it-start-russia
[6] — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism_and_religion#Communism_and_Abrahamic_religions
[7] — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopian_socialism
[8] — https://acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-10-number-3/how-christianity-created-capitalism
[9] — https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/aug/28/china-future-christianity
[10] — https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/religion-china
[11] — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Self_Patriotic_Movement
[12] — http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-10/18/c_136688284.htm
[13] — http://www.chinapartnership.org/blog/2018/12/my-declaration-of-faithful-disobedience
[14] — Article 36: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.” Retrieved from: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Constitution/2007-11/15/content_1372964.htm

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4 Comments

  1. It is definitely interesting to read another perspective on this. I’m happy you took the time to address this in a humble and constructive manner. I would humbly challenge you, however, to re-examine the passages dealing with church community. The “socialism” you spoke of (found in Acts 4:32-37) was not mandated, but voluntary (Acts 5:4). Also, the providing for the poor and hungry was within the context of the Church, not the general public (see Acts 5:13). For the most part, the public outside the church had other means available when those in the church were cut off, such as was the case with converted Jews. Note that is was to the “brethren” at Judea that Barnabas and Paul delivered relief offerings, not the community at large (Acts 11:28-30).

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’ll reply to your challenge in two parts.

      1) “Socialism” in Acts was not mandated but voluntary.

      Coming back to the root of socialism, we must relook the Marxist manifesto and its historical background. Karl Marx envisioned a day when the proletariats will overthrow the bourgeoisie to create a classless society after being bogged down in hard labour. In this utopian state, most things are not in personal possession but under the state’s. However, do note the Marxism was only created out of the dissatisfaction with the unfairness capitalism bring. If resources were evenly distributed and everyone’s welfare being cared for, we will see a similar vision as reflected in Acts 4 being realised without a revolution.

      2) Providing for the poor is limited within the context of the church.

      It was limited to the church during Paul’s days because of the intense persecution they were facing. But that’s not the heart of God. God’s Heart is for all, regardless of background. Hence the gospel was intended to be spread to the Gentiles as well. Consider how great works were done by the apostles to minister to people from foreign land, healing them and bringing them to faith, so must we as the Church do good works in the public arena so that we may be salt and light for Christ.

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      1. Thank you for this engaging discussion. I really do enjoy discussing Scripture and how it relates to life, especially in the light of culture. What makes this discussion even more intriguing is that each of us comes from different cultures and evidently hold to different political philosophies. At least that’s the impression I am getting, but I could be wrong.

        You said that “Marxism was only created out of the dissatisfaction with the unfairness capitalism brings.” That may or may not be the sole reason, but even if it was, there is a commonality between both capitalism and Marxism (and socialism and communism) that can lead to abuse and hardship: Human nature. It is human nature that prohibits any nation from achieving a utopia, regardless of the political structure. If pure capitalism is allowed to run amok, then the desire for wealth can hurt the poor. However, as we have seen for nearly 90 years, Marxism and communism had lead to the deaths of millions in an attempt to achieve a common utopia. But even if everything was free from sin and the nature of fallen man, I would still prefer a system that allowed me to excel rather than be restrained. “He becometh poor that dealeth [with] a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich” (Proverbs 10:4).

        I don’t know if you are aware of this, but the early settlers in America adopted a communal system of government, at first. Everyone had everything in common, and all the produce of their hands was put in common store. When all was said and done, each one of the community was given an equal share. But it didn’t take long before the lazy ones determined that they did not have to work as hard to have the same as the others. So, those who worked hard and produced more ended up taking care of the ones who would not contribute. It wasn’t long before the system collapsed. It was then that the principle of 2 Thessalonians 3:10 was put into place: “…if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

        Therefore, I find it difficult to believe that the early church followed nothing more than a communal model. What I do believe is that, as Scripture records, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32 NIV). One may want to infer that the early church sold everything they had and put it in one pot, but that is not necessarily implied, and it was certainly not expected as further passages reveal. The actions of the early church were brought about by their mutual love and concern for each other, not the dictates of any particular policy or command.

        Now, as to those outside the Church, we are certainly commanded to care for the poor and needy, especially the wounded by the side of the road, the widow, the orphan, and even our enemies (Luke 6:27-35). However, I do not believe it is proper to use the Acts 4 example as a model for society as a whole, for Scripture clearly indicates that what was had in common was between brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, I do not believe that is acceptable to use the first-century church as a model or precedent for socialism or communism in society at large.

        I hope that my comment, here, was not too long. I also hope that you will accept my thoughts in love, and not as those meant to cause strife. As brothers we can grow in our understanding as we discuss difficult issues. It is good to “reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).

        Regardless, let our good works bring glory and honor to our Father in heaven 🙂

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